University of Southern Indiana

Pandemic with a Side of Cold Turkey

by John Michael O'Leary

Jason FertigWhen the pandemic forced classroom instruction to migrate to the internet, Dr. Jason Fertig, Associate Professor of Management, says he could have easily adapted his HR Management seminar to an online format. But rather than force a round syllabus through a rectangular screen, he pursued what Monty Python’s Flying Circus might refer to as “something completely different.”

“I didn’t want to assume class would be business as usual except that we would be meeting over Zoom,” says Fertig. “Students were going through big changes in routine, and I wanted them to reflect on those changes ... I was fortunate in that the objectives for the course allowed flexibility.”

He found inspiration in a book by Catherine Price, How to Break Up With Your Phone. His assignment for students: to break up with their phones for 30 days. He shepherded about 40 students through the exercise; each submitted a thought paper on the experience and what they learned. 

Generally speaking, the papers revealed how students were coming to grips with their new reality, with shrinking social circles and loss of jobs or hours worked. Against this backdrop, they learned how phone habits affect their lives.

“Ultimately, it wasn’t about giving up the phone, but about reframing the relationship with it to get to something deeper and more meaningful,” says Fertig.

He adds that adults, including himself, also deal with phone addiction. “Going through the exercise kept me honest about my own habits. It felt like I was doing more research on the pandemic than I had done for my dissertation.”

Fertig reached Price by Zoom after the class concluded. He shared what he had learned as grist for her continuing work on helping people live more fully. (Find out more at

Although Fertig has no immediate plans to conduct this exercise again, he says he may do so at some point. Right now, his focus is on preparing for the Fall Semester. Regardless of how the mix of classroom and online instruction might change in the weeks ahead, he is clear about one thing. “We’re all trying to do the best for students.”

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